Strengthening the Doctor-Patient Relationship: An Interview with Dr. Lidia Schapira

June 11, 2015
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

Last week, Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, became Editor in Chief of Cancer.Net. Before that, Dr. Schapira was a long-time member of the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, serving as Associate Editor of Psychosocial Oncology for more than a decade.

"Dr. Schapira is a known champion for strengthening the doctor-patient relationship, in particular, through patient education," said ASCO Immediate Past President Peter Paul Yu, MD, FACP, FASCO.

Throughout her career, Dr. Schapira has focused on improving communication between patients and doctors. She has pioneered workshops and developed educational programs to improve the communication skills of cancer clinicians both nationally and internationally. Dr. Schapira has also collaborated with experts in neuroscience and psychology to find new ways to strengthen the therapeutic connection between patients and health care providers.

To learn a bit more about our new Editor in Chief, I talked with Dr. Schapira about her background and the role she sees Cancer.Net playing in the lives of people with cancer and family caregivers.

Q: How did you become interested in the emotional and social aspects of cancer care?

Dr. Schapira: I love the science of cancer medicine, but confess I’m even more interested in understanding how patients and their families cope with this illness. Historically, patients suffered enormously and couldn’t talk about it or receive support. We’ve made such tremendous progress in understanding how people cope and how we, as oncologists, can help them cope. It is the challenge of finding more ways of helping patients and family caregivers better bear the burdens of illness that gets me going every day. share on Twitter 

Q: Because of this, what areas or issues have you chosen to focus your research on?

Dr. Schapira: I’m interested in the psychological processes that are set in motion in response to a serious illness and in understanding how people respond to these existential threats and turn them into challenges. I also focus on furthering compassionate connections between patients and cancer clinicians and on understanding the social determinants of health, which include education, socioeconomic status, and resources, as well as cultural and spiritual beliefs. Every single one of these issues never ceases to fascinate me and can be experienced in so many different ways so that every encounter with a patient feels fresh and different.

Q: How do you think your research background and clinical experience will help you in your role as Cancer.Net’s Editor in Chief?

Dr. Schapira: I have always felt it is important to focus on both the patient’s and the physician’s experience. The whole picture can emerge only when we consider the humanity of each participant. share on Twitter As a result, I am constantly looking for new ways of enhancing compassion in clinical care through research and education. This has led me to participate in educational endeavors designed to improve communication skills of cancer clinicians and to work collaboratively with patient advocacy groups to identify better mechanisms for supporting patients throughout the illness experience. So working with Cancer.Net is a natural fit, as it is the best possible platform for the oncology community to provide expert guidance, as well as support and empowerment to patients.

Q: How have you seen Cancer.Net change over the past 10+ years?

Dr. Schapira: Oh boy—this is a remarkable story of success. Cancer.Net is a trusted source of information, largely due to the incredible and generous contribution of our expert editors and panelists. Over the past decade we have expanded the content of the site to include not only rare cancers and novel therapies, but also a great deal of content related to palliative care, symptom management, communication, cost of care, and all aspects of coping. We have started translating important content into Spanish, and we are proud to have visitors from every continent (except Antarctica). We continue to embrace new ways of communicating with patients and family caregivers and have built a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The number of people visiting the site is increasing at a very fast clip, and this is the best endorsement of our efforts.

Q: What would you like to accomplish in your time as Editor in Chief?

Dr. Schapira: I hope to bring some fresh ideas to Cancer.Net about themes that resonate with patients and family caregivers. Communication involves an active exchange of perspectives and information, and I think we can do even more to help people with cancer become more engaged in their care. share on Twitter This will lead to greater satisfaction and improvements in their quality of life. I also want to address the needs of family caregivers as much as possible since they are essential partners in cancer care.

Share your thoughts on this blog post on Cancer.Net's Facebook and Twitter.